Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the No. 1 cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. The top risk factors: hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, obesity and smoking, are poorly treated, oftentimes with pharmaceutical drugs. 

"Many physicians do not know about or measure the other risk factors and, thus, do not treat them. The basic mechanisms of CVD are inflammation, oxidative stress, autoimmune dysfunction (which leads to endothelial dysfunction), and arterial compliance abnormalities. Understanding the infinite number of insults to the artery and limits in which the artery can respond allows better early diagnosis, prevention and treatment. We have to begin to take entirely new approaches to vascular disease beyond the traditional risk factors for CHD and the usual diagnostic and treatment approaches." - Dr. Mark Houston, MD, MSc, SCH, ABAAM, FACP, FAHA. Houston is clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and director of the Hypertension Institute at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. Heart disease risk at age 70 or 80 is determined by your risk factors when you're 40. Risk factors that you have direct control over include: low vitamin D levels, Type 2 diabetes, stress, smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, and poor diet.

Food items such as white flour, wheat, hydrogenated oils and trans fats, gluten, sugar, excess omega-6 fats, margarine, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, flavors or colorings promote systemic inflammation and are poisonous to your heart, waistline and overall health.

A poor diet, oxidative stress, unresolved emotions, gum disease, eating foods you're sensitive to, smoking, diabetes, being overweight, injuries, long-term infections, existing heart condition, and too little or too much exercise all increase inflammation.

A study in the Cardiology Research and Practice reports that long-term adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet results in significant improvements in several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Things to know

about heart health

1. Elevated C-Reactive Protein (CRP), Homocysteine, HbA1c and Fasting Insulin CRP is used as a marker of inflammation in the arteries. Fasting insulin is a test that screens for diabetes and heart disease, but it's also a marker for inflammation. The higher your insulin levels are, the more inflammation your body is producing. Hyperglycemia and diabetes are associated with increased risk of heart disease.

The amino acid, Homocysteine, is a test that predicts if you're likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Elevated homocysteine levels are linked to other diseases including atherosclerosis and dementia.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that hyperglycemia is related to cardiac damage independent of atherosclerosis. Elevated levels of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), a blood marker for chronic hyperglycemia and diabetes, is also a blood marker for heart damage. A simple blood test will tell you if you have elevated levels of homocysteine, insulin, HbA1c, glucose and CRP.

2. Saturated fat is actually healthy for your heart. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that those who regularly eat the highest amounts of saturated fats have the least amount of plaque buildup in their arteries, and had a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterols.

Healthy saturated fats such as coconut oil not only decrease your risk of heart disease and improve your lipid profile, they prevent osteoporosis, kill Candida, help balance hormones, boost immune health and are nourishing for your thyroid, brain and nervous system.

Trans-fats found in cakes, pies, cookies, chips, margarine, crackers, fast food and pizza are responsible for raising LDL cholesterol, and increase your waistline and risk of heart disease while also lowering beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Healthy saturated fats include coconut oil; real butter; grass-fed beef and bison; cage-free, organic poultry and eggs; unpasteurized, raw milk; and wild fish.

3. Cholesterol is a steroid found in all body cells and blood and a precursor to hormone production, vitamin D and bile production. Cholesterol is a repair substance that controls free radical damage. Up to 80 percent of cholesterol is produced in your liver.

In addition to the basic testing for cholesterol (HDL, LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol), particle number and particle size, along with other risk factors like remnant lipoprotein (RLP), Lp(a), Apo-B-100, and as stated above homocysteine, CRP and fasting insulin should always be tested.

No one is drug deficient - nutrient deficient statins are now the No. 1 selling drug in the U.S. Heart disease is not a Crestor or Lipitor deficiency. Statins come with a laundry list of side effects: increased risk of diabetes, liver damage, muscle pain, deplete the nutrient Coenzyme Q10, and actually increase your risk for heart disease.

Drugs don't treat the underlying causes of chronic illness. The causes of chronic disease are rooted in what we eat, how much we move, inflammation, how connected we are to our communities, gut health, how we manage stress, toxic overload, chemicals and metals in our environment, and nutritional deficiencies.

Eating eight servings daily of low glycemic fruits, leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables dramatically reduces your risk of heart disease and increases your fiber intake. An easy way to achieve this is by blending veggies and leafy greens in a vitamix. People who followed this simple, easy and effective method for a study published in the European Heart Journal had a 22 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.

If your cholesterol is too high, the problem is not the cholesterol. Your body has raised its levels in order to play some type of essential role(s) for your survival.

Emotional and physical stress can also influence cholesterol levels. The majority of excess cholesterol is manufactured in times of psychological stress and dehydration. LDL can be high because your body is attempting to produce hormones (i.e.: hypothyroid, menopause or andropause). Testosterone is vital for more than just sex drive; it's important for heart health. Testosterone levels decline with age. Those with low testosterone are more likely to have elevated cholesterol, heart attacks and diabetes.

Cholesterol is necessary and healthy because it is involved in cellular repair and reducing inflammation. It is oxidized cholesterol that is unhealthy. Elevated triglycerides, in conjunction with a low HDL, versus a high cholesterol total by itself are risk factors for disease.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that normal cholesterol was considered to be around 200. Today, normal is considered 160. So much has been written concerning the evils of increased cholesterol, however, very little has been reported concerning decreased cholesterol. Decreased cholesterol can be normal for a vegetarian and some people with a genetic predisposition.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at

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